David Zurawik

Ravens TV: A painful game to watch, but not because of CBS Sports

As appealing as it might be to vent my own frustration and play to the rage of tens of thousands of Ravens fans by ripping the TV coverage of Baltimore's agonizing 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots, facts are facts. And the fact of the matter is that CBS Sports did an outstanding job of telecasting Sunday's AFC championship game.

The producer and director used their cameras to make viewers feel as if they were not only in the stadium, but almost on the field in Foxboro at certain points Sunday. And the broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms was high energy all the way and constantly working to make the action on the field more understandable and entertaining.

And, hey, all you readers who are always complaining about how the Ravens get no respect or love in the TV booth, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco did not have a bigger booster anywhere in sports television than Simms. And he never jumped off the Flacco bandwagon Sunday – even after the fourth quarter interception.

And if you are about to say, maybe a better analyst would have turned on Flacco, it wasn't the Ravens quarterback who failed to hold on to a touchdown pass in the end zone in the closing seconds – or missed the 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Flacco played a game worthy of an AFC championship -- and threw the pass that would have taken the Ravens to the Super Bowl had Lee Evans held onto it a second longer. (And if you don't like the call of incomplete on the play, blame the officials not CBS.)

Maybe a season of suffering through second-string CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf left me panting for anyone who showed any enthusiasm or energy. But I can't tell you how engaging the broadcast seemed right from the start with Nantz sharing Simms' off-camera words, which the analyst had uttered moments earlier when the Ravens had come onto the field.

"You said there's nothing like being hated," Nantz said, leading into an explanation from Simms as to the kind of energy you feel as a visiting team when you come into a game like Sunday's and feel the intensity of the crowd – against you. Simms said he felt pumped just hearing and witnessing it from the booth.

And later, in the Ravens fourth series when Flacco made his first big play, Nantz again shared the way Simms was "tapping" him on his arm and pointing downfield to a wide open Torrey Smith as Flacco rolled out and looked for a receiver.

Great work by Nantz to communicate the intensity of his partner, which the fans could not, of course, see. And how sweet it was to have an analyst that engaged in the action that way after Dierdorf and the other second and third string analysts Baltimore fans were forced to endure all year because we are a relatively small TV market.

Simms was also superb at explaining substitutions, injuries and calls by the referees. He was so smooth, he corrected one of the few mistakes Nantz made all day without sounding as he was correcting him. It occurred when offensive tackle Michael Oher went out with an ankle injury, and Jah Reid came in to replace him.

"Jah Reid, a rookie from Central Florida, will protect Joe Flacco's blind side," Nantz said, as the CBS cameras showed Oher on the sideline being examined.

As soon as the play ended, Simms jumped in to say the Ravens went out and got Bryant McKinnie to play left tackle (Flacco's blind side), and that Reid replaces Oher at right tackle.

The telecast won me over from the opening visuals. I love the field-level point of view, and the producer and director steeped the telecast in such shots from the opening moments.

The first shot of the first drive of the game gave us a field-level point of view from behind the Ravens as they huddled. As you looked up and out over the field, you saw a bridge at one end of the stadium filled with fans, and you felt almost as if you were in that crucible of confrontation with the Patriots and their followers yourself.

And once the producer and director so located you in the game, they used the field-level point of view throughout the game to enrich replays.

You have to have your live cameras looking down on the field to get a sense of the action on any given play. That if the best point of view for live action.

But, as exciting as Ladarius Webb's interception of a Tom Brady pass was from that point of view, for example, it was downright dazzling when you saw at field level from an angle behind Webb. You saw how far Webb went up to get the pass and how much open territory there was behind him had he missed and let the ball get to the receiver.

For all the new razzle-dazzle technology available today, those field-level shots took me back to my early years watching Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers on CBS, and made the action Sunday as exciting to me today as it was then when I was a wide-eyed 12-year-old watching my hometown team.

Complaints about TV coverage Sunday?

I did have a problem with the CBS "NFL Today" show running a report on the death of Penn State coach Joe Paterno Sunday and not acknowledging on-air the role the network's website,, played in reporting Paterno had died Saturday night (when he was still alive). I asked via email for a network reply on that, but didn't receive one Sunday.

But that's a judgment call, and as egregious as the Saturday night error was, the website did offer a correction and apology online.

My biggest complaint about Sunday's TV coverage involved announcers at other channels ripping Flacco in what I think was an unjustifiably nasty way.

I reported last week about ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi calling Flacco "Fredo," a weak and cowardly character in "The Godfather" movies. CBS cameras Sunday  showed Bruschi, a former New England linebacker, in the team's owner's box. Bruschi was one of the Patriots honorary captains for the Sunday's game.

Conflict? You make the call. When it comes to the NFL, TV networks and cable channels have a very different sense of conflict of interest than I do, that's for sure.

On Sunday, ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson also ripped Flacco in the same way, saying, "When I watch him and I watch his body language and his demeanor, he looks like a scaredy-cat out there playin' to me."

Fredo? Scaredy-cat? That's pretty harsh stuff. And as negative as some of us surely feel about the Ravens blowing a trip to the Super Bowl Sunday, none of that kind of cheap-shot analysis was predictive of the way Flacco actually played, was it?

Such critiques were not only mean-spirited, they were ignorant -- so ignorant that in the case of Bruschi, at least, I think it is fair to question his motives.

What do you think?